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Reevaluating Google’s Fake News Core Update – The Latest!

Episode Overview

In an important follow-up to Google’s “June 2019 Core Update,” Jordan Koene, CEO of Searchmetrics, and Ben Shapiro go in-depth, pulling back the curtain on what’s being called the “Fake News Algorithm Update.” And what’s the inside story with Genius, the music lyric aggregator, and how did Google get caught “red-handed” scraping and serving their content in the SERPs?

Re-evaluating the very recent major shifts in Google search, Ben and Jordan uncover more insights in the most recent Searchmetrics data, explaining how Google is reshaping the SERP and organic search with their latest core algorithm update:

  • What changes is Searchmetrics seeing in the video carousel, image assets, Twitter cards, and above the fold?
  • What is the outcome of all the volatility in the media websites?
  • Is Google de-prioritizing certain sites that are deemed lower quality?
  • What’s happening to the news sites like CBS, Daily Mail, Fox News, and the Chicago Tribune?
  • How are local directories and content aggregators like Digg, Rotten Tomatoes, and Foursquare being impacted?
  • Is Wikipedia losing their top-rank status and what’s happening with Wayfair?
  • In what ways do SEOs need to become more astute managing their content assets, images, and social media in order to secure more organic presence on Google?

GUESTS & RESOURCES:

Episode Transcript

Ben:                             Welcome to another emergency Google core algorithm update edition of the Voices of Search podcast. I’m your host Benjamin Shapiro, and today we’re going to re-re-evaluate the changing landscape of the Google Search post the June core update. Joining us is Jordan Koene, who is the lead SEO strategist and the CEO of Searchmetrics, Inc. and today Jordan and I are going to pull back the curtain on what we’ve been calling Google’s fake news algorithm update.

Ben:                             But before we hear from Jordan, I want to remind you that this podcast is brought to you by the marketing team at Searchmetrics. We are an SEO and content marketing platform that helps enterprise scale businesses monitor their online presence and make data-driven decisions. To support you, our loyal podcast listeners, we’re offering a complimentary digital diagnostic, where a member of our digital strategies group will provide you with a consultation that reviews how your website content and SEO strategies can all be optimized. To schedule your free digital diagnostic, go to searchmetrics.com/diagnostic.

Ben:                             Okay, on with the show. Here’s my conversation with Jordan Koene, SEO Strategist and CEO of Searchmetrics Inc. Jordan, welcome back to the Voices Of Search podcast.

Jordan:                         Hey Ben, this story doesn’t end, right?

Ben:                             We’re giving the re-reevaluation or the update of the update for the Google core update. Either way, it’s a lot of updating.

Jordan:                         It’s a lot of updating. I guess we’re living up to Google standard of 600 updates per year, right?

Ben:                             You know, we’re just trying to follow their template. I think what we should do is start off by recapping for anybody that missed our original episode about the June core update. So let’s talk a little bit about what happened. What’s the ground we’ve already covered?

Jordan:                         Yeah, so one of the big aspects that we covered in our last episode about the update is the focus on news and media and how news and media was largely recalibrated in this update. In particular, especially in the US market, we saw a lot of volatility within news and media websites.

Ben:                             Yeah, I think, you know, news and media is part of the story. The thing that’s interesting and that we learned a little bit more about recently is that, you know, Wikipedia was affected and our thought last time we talked about the Google update was that this means that Google is adjusting the SERP. And so they’re adding more elements and more structured data and, you know, more basically above the fold, above the first listing content, which since Wikipedia is generally one of the first results for a bunch of terms, impacts them the most.

Ben:                             And I think the other interesting thing that we talked about last time was that there was a pre-announcement about this update and that Danny Sullivan said that the update was going to happen in advance, and we don’t have to recap that, but it was something that we covered in advance. So as this update is rolled out, Google is trying to give people a better sense of the timing of when their updates are happening.

Jordan:                         Precisely. Yeah, and I think that’s one of the good takeaways from our last episode is hey, these updates are coming now with a little more information from Google and I think that’s good for everyone in the community. That’s a change and a shift that we should all jump on.

Ben:                             But the updates don’t always roll out on one day, right? We didn’t see a ton of action the first week after the update. Then we saw some real significant changes in news and media. Now that we’re a little farther away, we wanted to circle back and talk about some of the new things that we’ve seen and just now that we have a little bit more data, give you an update on the updates.

Ben:                             So you know, first and foremost we called this the fake news update and we said that, you know, news media was impacted and that we were seeing these sort of lower brow, lower quality content sites, thoughtco.com, ventmere.com, you know, these companies that are creating listicles and random articles that were ranking really well were just demolished.

Ben:                             And as a factor of, you know, that type of content being deprioritized by Google, we also saw it impact some other players, CBS, Daily Mail were all impacted and to make up for, you know, those loss in rankings, we saw some local directories and some content aggregators like Digg and Rotten Tomatoes and Foursquare see some improvement. And more than anything, you know, we saw Google’s own properties, the YouTubes of the world, really pick up a lot of the share for the loss in news and publishing. Now that we’ve had a little bit more data, you know, tell me what you’re seeing and you know, is that trend continuing? Are we still seeing impacts in media and publishing?

Jordan:                         We are. We continue to see week over week more news and media sites see a decrease in visibility. Couple of latest ones that have kind of hit our lists and radar include Foxnews.com, Chicagotribune.com, and there are others. Now the interesting component behind this, and I think that the main takeaway for folks here, whether you’re in news or media or not, is that many of the keywords that we analyze when we look at the keywords for these websites are branded one token or two token high-profile keywords.

Ben:                             These are head terms.

Jordan:                         Head terms, yeah, exactly, head terms, and in a lot of them are, you know, pretty common things that you would know about, right? Things like people’s names, you know, everything from sports names, people’s names. You know, one example that Ben and I were looking at was the keyword Obama and how the Chicago Tribune had a significant drop on the keyword Obama.

Jordan:                         Now, the reality is that the Tribune or a news or media site dropping from these keywords likely doesn’t impact traffic all that much. However, what ends up happening is that Google re-shifts or reshapes the SERP to be more, I guess, selective in what they showcase. So this might be introducing more video carousel image assets. You know, maybe even a bigger Twitter card for a keyword like Obama.

Jordan:                         These things now become more prevalent in the SERP, which really limits the amount of organic results that can take place in the SERP and thus drop a lot of these new sites, whether they be high profile, mainstream news sites like, you know, Chicago Tribune or they be, maybe some of them are low brow, maybe not quite as authoritative news outlets.

Ben:                             Yeah. Without getting political, the thing that is interesting to me, you mentioned that the Chicago Tribune, you know, isn’t ranking for the head term Obama. Obviously his home is in Chicago, so it makes sense that you know, the Chicago Tribune, the local paper would rank for the term.

Ben:                             On the flip side, you know, a publication that probably isn’t as much of a fan of Barack Obama was also impacted. So, you know, we saw Fox News be impacted and they are no longer ranking as highly for the Keyword Obama anymore. So without getting too much into the politics, it seems like Google is making a change, not necessarily to take one side or another. This is really about what real estate is shown in the SERP.

Jordan:                         Precisely, and I think that that’s a good takeaway for everybody who works in the search space, because Google’s constantly changing this landscape and this requires SEOs to become more astute about what kind of assets they have to not only become relevant in the organic results, which is the URL of your page, but oftentimes maybe how you leverage images or your social media strategy or other aspects to secure more presence within Google.

Ben:                             I know that the search results and the page formats vary widely for, you know, everybody. I just did an incognito search for the term Obama, and the interesting thing to me is there is a top stories carousel, right? You know, recent news that, you know, articles that are talking about Barack Obama. There’s a gigantic card showing, you know content probably from Wikipedia, maybe from his personal website. There’s a video carousel, and then there is a series of Twitter cards as well. The first result that is not his personal website is the Wikipedia card. And there’s only, like, three or four results below that. So they are really basically burying the organic results at least halfway down the page, and they are significantly below the fold.

Jordan:                         And this makes a ton of sense, right? If you’re Google and you’re trying to control news environments within the SERP, limiting the number of organic results allow you to control it easier, right? So there’s if only four spots now, the likelihood of say a spammer or some sort of site trying to introduce themselves into the top spots for a keyword like Obama is very low.

Ben:                             Yeah, so, you know, going back to what we originally said is, hey, Wikipedia got impacted, okay, something’s going on with the search and boy, we’re seeing a lot of changes in the news and media landscape. All that absolutely holds true. And you know, after a couple of weeks post this announcement, we’re just seeing that Google is not only trying to decrease the rankings of sites that might not be relevant or have sort of lower brow, you know, low tier, less value content. They’re also limiting the amount of real estate.

Ben:                             So, Jordan, talk to me about some of the other theories that SEOs have been discussing related to this update outside of, you know it’s the fake news update.

Jordan:                         Yeah. So the other one is that this is a slight rollback of Google’s updates in March earlier this year where there were a lot of big changes to health websites, a lot of big changes to focus on, kind of, trust and quality type signals. In an essence this is a slight rollback of some of those aspects, and Google kind of reversing the trend on some of the things that they tweaked.

Jordan:                         The most notable one is really around these health websites and what we noticed is that one of the biggest winners over the past couple of weeks has been healthline.com which suffered a pretty big drop in March, and now has since regained a lot of that loss. So, Google kind of realizing that there’s something valuable in this category of health content and making those rankings more present in that category.

Ben:                             So that actually brings me to the question. Outside of the news and media category being impacted, you mentioned that the medical aggregators, you know, who else was impacted by this recent update, or is it just all news and media and a little bit of, you know, the medical aggregators?

Jordan:                         Not entirely. It’s not just those two categories. I’d say the other big one here is in the e-commerce space. So, it took us a little while to kind of decipher exactly what was going on here, but what we were able to identify is that a large sum of e-commerce sites had a pretty significant impact from Google in particular on pages that would be considered search pages on their website.

Jordan:                         So, let me clarify that. You’re an e-commerce site. You have a search experience and page and you’re indexing those pages in Google. That is the area that Google has attacked over the last two to three weeks, and we’ve noticed some big, big losers, most notably Wayfair, taking a big hit and it’s likely due to the introduction or the exposure of their search pages into Google’s SERPs.

Ben:                             You mentioned that Wayfair has been taking a hit related to the SERP basically being removed from the index. It’s a big hit. How big?

Jordan:                         Pretty big. I’d say, I mean from our data, what we see is 30% decrease in visibility and I’m positive looking at just the keyword profile that this is taking a hit on traffic, but the reality here is that this is a domain space that Google has been playing with for years. They’re constantly kind of … it’s a tug of war with not just e-commerce sites, but a lot of sites who submit search result pages to the index.

Jordan:                         In our pre-production session, Ben and I were talking about how this is actually, like, against Google’s guidelines. Google actually states this is not a permissible practice, but it’s very hard for Google to maintain that high level of aggressiveness because a lot of good content comes from these search results pages.

Ben:                             The other thing that came up in our pre-production meeting was not only did Wayfair get hit, I think the exact term that I used was they got crushed, and you know, whether this sticks around, you know, not just talk specifically about Wayfair’s business. This has to be having a negative impact on the business and something that we’ll likely be covering and are winners and losers segment with Tyson Stockton on the first Tuesday of July. But it’s pretty clear that they were dramatically impacted by this change in how Google is playing around with, you know, what search results pages can be in the index.

Jordan:                         Now, I mean, for the listeners that are out there, and if you have folks who are doing SEO in the e-commerce space, I’d love to hear from folks on Twitter, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Google not only decreased rankings for these e-commerce sites, but also probably even put in a manual notice within search console saying, hey, we’re penalizing you for submitting search result pages.

Jordan:                         It’s a very clear signal and a very clear indication, and when those kinds of scenarios come up, it’s very easy for Google to say, we’re giving you a manual penalty for this. Go clean it up, go fix it. And I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a good group of e-commerce sites that received notices.

Ben:                             Yeah, the 30% dip in visibility is not just taking the search results pages, and I’m speculating here, is not just taking the search results pages out of the listing. It is also a slap on the hand. It was a significant penalty that was meant to say don’t break the rules.

Jordan:                         Right.

Ben:                             Okay.

Jordan:                         Right, and Wayfair isn’t standing alone here. There’s a good cluster of e-commerce sites big and small.

Ben:                             Walmart got hit, too.

Jordan:                         Walmart saw some decrease as well, it was more in a tiered approach, kind of like three big decreases. But again, similar activities, similar behavior, and similar tactic as well.

Ben:                             So, Jordan, as we take the macro view here, right? This looks like a correction for Google to first and foremost, you know, try to manage the information that’s being presented related to news and media.

Ben:                             You know, there’s some e-commerce stuff that was thrown in here about you know, making sure that people are following best practices and the rules and regulations and then, you know, we saw some volatility in the medical space. Without going into the details about any of these industries. You know, what is Google signaling with this update? What are the things that they’re trying to address?

Jordan:                         Well, some of the other things that they’re using, or trying to address here is content quality and ensuring that the best quality content is served within the SERP. And they’re also trying to serve, I think, some of their own self-interest, which is how does Google display Google experiences and control the SERP in a way that helps, A, probably protect Google from spammers and, kind of, negative sentiment about content that may not be positive. And so it’s a combination of Google controlling for quality, also controlling for … to protect their business and their brand and the integrity of the SERP.

Ben:                             And to promote their best interests, right? Like, this is a bottom line play, and that’s one of the reasons why they’re taking up so much real estate for the SERP. You know, they’re promoting their own content, you know, whether it’s theirs or whether it’s someone else’s, you know, they’re really controlling the way that that’s showing outside of the organic listings.

Jordan:                         Yeah, actually, that’s a great, point and I don’t know if all of you noticed this, you should go check it out, that the Wall Street Journal published an article on how Genius, the, kind of, the music lyric aggregator website caught Google literally scraping and serving their content in the SERPs. And it was really interesting how they use kind of Morse code as they say here to watermark or control their lyric content.

Jordan:                         And it’s no surprise. I mean Google is using other people’s content to display in their SERP the same way as if you use the Wall Street Journal’s content and displayed it on your website. But the reality is that because they’re a search engine, because they’re Google, there’s kind of a double standard there in terms of how and when Google can use someone else’s content.

Ben:                             My favorite part of that story is the Morse code that they used and from … maybe I’m getting it wrong, but from what I remember, it was something the extent of the first apostrophe in a music lyric would be like slightly stented towards the left and then every apostrophe beyond that would be straight up and down. And there’s no reason why anybody would have that font working the way that it does. And then, you know, next thing you know, Google is publishing lyrics with every apostrophe, you know, using Genius’ new, you know, what they’re calling Morse code. And that’s how Genius figured out that Google was taking their content and publishing it.

Jordan:                         Correct, yeah. I think that the sequence of the dots and dashes spelled out the word red handed, so, I think the direct quote from the articles, so Google got caught here red handed.

Ben:                             So just to sort of tie everything back in together, you know, as Google is trying to control the search results pages for the user experience to promote their own brand, you know, where’s the dividing line between them promoting the content that they own and necessarily, basically ripping off other people’s content and using it as their own.

Jordan:                         I mean this is a hard area to have a conclusive decision on, because the reality is that as long as Google is a primary source of free traffic for brands, the identity of Google collecting and serving content will be maintained as a practice. Because essentially Google is sending you visitors at no cost, and in return, we expect to have access to your content.

Jordan:                         In fact, this reminds me of an old story from our eBay days, Ben. For a long time, eBay would not submit the item page to Google. The item page being the actual listing like the iPhone itself that Johnny is selling or-

Ben:                             The individual auction page.

Jordan:                         Yeah, the individual auction, exactly. And eBay had a stance of not doing that because they didn’t want Google to have access to eBay’s content. That eBay’s content was so precious, it was so special, that we weren’t going to give it to Google, and eventually they changed that policy. Why? Because it was going to become the biggest source of traffic to eBay.

Jordan:                         And it ended up being the case, you know, for almost a decade that was the largest source of traffic to eBay was the item page. And still to this day, that page type drives a large volume of traffic to eBay that they probably couldn’t go without. And so content and the sanctity of content when it comes to Google is very different because that traffic comes for free.

Ben:                             It’s a hairy topic. I think that, you know, going back to this update, you know, we still stand by the major correction here was you know about Google controlling the search experience but mostly limiting it so the amount of fake news and the amount of low quality content that was showing up is buried. And you know, we stand by the original position that we had that, you know, this is really the fake news update by Google.

Ben:                             And that wraps up this episode of the Voices of Search podcast. Thanks for listening to my conversation with Jordan Koene, SEO strategist and CEO of Searchmetrics, Inc. We’d love to continue the conversation with you. So if you’d like to contact Jordan, you can find the link to his LinkedIn profile in our show notes. You can send him a tweet. His Twitter handle is jtkoene.

Ben:                             If you have general marketing questions or if you’d like to talk to me about this podcast, you can find my contact information in our show notes or you can send me a tweet at benjshap.

Ben:                             If you’re interested in learning more about how to use search data to boost your organic traffic online visibility, or to gain competitive insights, head over to searchmetrics.com/diagnostic for your complimentary advisory session with our digital strategies team.

Ben:                             And if you like this podcast and you want a regular stream of SEO and content marketing insights in your podcast feed, hit the subscribe button in your podcast app, and we’ll be back in your feed tomorrow morning.

Ben:                             Lastly, if you’ve enjoyed the show and you’re feeling generous, we’d love for you to leave us a review in the apple iTunes store or wherever you’d listen to your podcasts. All right, that’s it for today, but until next time, remember, the answers are always in the data.